Fancy Fascinators and Floral Dresses annual hat convention

“Does anyone still wear a hat?” Stephen Sondheim wrote in the song “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

They certainly do at the Central Park Conservancy’s annual Frederick Law Olmsted luncheon, better known as the “hat lunch,” now in its 40th year. At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, a trembling of well-heeled warblers gathered in gloomy weather at the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, united by the pomp of their crests.

They cooed and cluttered as shutterbugs captured hats of every form and distinction: hats adorned with flowers, feathered fascinators, flapper, boaters, berets, bows and not-so-Mad-Hatter toppers. There was even a cowboy hat.

“It was made in Paris for the Prix de Diane races,” Jamee Gregory, the highly social author, said of her sun hat with poppies and a large, asymmetrical brim.

Not all the hats were just for show. Jennifer Suh Whitfield wore a towering hat by Esenshel that reminded her of a Korean Gat — “a hemp hat worn by men,” she said. “Coming to events like this, as an Asian American, I’ve often felt that there’s a little bit of role play in wearing these hats.”

Andrea Hagan, an investor, wore a pink baseball cap with a Planned Parenthood logo. “I’m here to gather with like-minded women at my table, because it’s such a somber day,” she said, referring to the leaked Supreme Court draft decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade if finalized.

At noon as trumpets played, the 1,300 guests — including Lauren Santo Domingo, the actress Susan Lucci and former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — filed into a massive tent where cocktails, rosé and chilled chicken breast salads awaited them.

“Events like this are important for the city,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “This is a handful of people who put in a lot of money every year to keep Central Park going.”

At Table 99, the fashion plate Di Mondo — whose boyfriend, Eric Javits, is a well-known milliner — brought along his pet Ruby, a white rabbit. Gillian Miniter, a board member of the conservancy, chatted with the designer Lela Rose about her experience at the Met Gala. “People didn’t look ridiculous,” Ms. Miniter said. “They were not just trying to outdo each other. It was normal. But nice normal.”

Midway through lunch, Yesim Philip, another board member and the party’s de facto host, took the stage and announced that the event had raised $3.9 million.

This was music to the ears of Alexandra Lebenthal, an investor who wore an elegant black fascinator with peonies, made by an Etsy shop. “I grew up in New York in the ’70s, in the city crisis when Central Park was a scary place,” she said. “When I think about the fact that all these women dress up and buy a ticket, they are a part of ensuring that the legacy of Central Park is in the past.”

At 1:30, just as things were winding down, the sun broke through. Guests made their way to the S.U.V.s waiting for them along Fifth Avenue, many stopping to praise Ms. Philip, who stood near the exit.

Among them was Betsy Pitts, a philanthropist, who wore a fascinator with orchids so finely made, it was impossible to tell they were not real. Leaning toward Ms. Philip, she gestured adamantly with her hands. “The chartreuse napkins,” she said. “Gorgeous.”

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Scott Baber
Scott Baber
Senior Managing editor

Manages incoming enquiries and advertising. Based in London and very sporty. Worked news and sports desks in local paper after graduating.


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